November 2, 2015
Even though I’m still in the trying-to-get-pregnant stage of my sex life, I’ve found myself wondering every time I contemplate parenting: Will becoming a mom disrupt my sex life? And if so, will the damage be permanent? To get a sense of what might be in store for me, I asked friends and experts whether moms really can continue to get it on.
As far as I can tell, there seem to be two stages of sex after a woman becomes a mother: the immediate changes a new child brings, and the more long-term effects. As for the former, in her book Mama Tried, cartoonist and author Emily Flake writes of postpartum sex, “I wanted to have sex again very soon after I had the baby. But not in a sexy way, not in a way that felt anything like sexual desire. What I felt was a physical jonesing for my husband’s body that felt like starving … I did not want anything done to my lady parts…But I desperately, viscerally needed to be close to John.” While much has been written about the need for skin-to-skin contact between mothers and babies, the intimate kind of touch Flake is talking about, between adults, which may or may not be sexual per se, is also important.
In a similar way, writer Jordan Rosenfeld credits having a child with improving her sex life—yes, you read that right. In an essay on the topic, she reports that while she and her husband miss “the sleepy ease of morning sex,” there are other ways their passion for each other has been rekindled. Cue the so-called “cuddle hormone” oxytocin. Rosenfeld writes, “We quickly realized that for all the ways that children pull at the threads of a marriage, sex could weave those threads back into place.” In bed.
For some moms, that’s an uphill battle. Blogger Crista Anne told me that after becoming a mom, intense postpartum depression “completely killed my libido.” When her libido returned, she was hit with another complication: “I felt extreme guilt that having a high sex drive somehow made me the dreaded ‘bad mommy,’” Anne said. What helped her navigate those extremes? Self-love. “Masturbation helped me immensely as I figured out the various changes I'd gone through. Learning how to allow myself to experience pleasure without another person around was vital. From there I was more confident to make changes within my interpersonal sex life. You may never be the same sexual being you were before, but I've found that prioritizing my pleasure has taken me to a point where I am having by far the best sex of my life.”
So for moms who may not have lost that lovin’ feeling, but don’t quite know how to act on it, what steps can they take? Rosenfeld’s advice is simple: “If you feel even slightly in the mood, go for it. My mantra about sex is, you may not feel like it at the moment, but you always have a good time once you're there.”
HIV-testing counselor and single mom Alicia Beth says the best thing you can do is give yourself a break. Don’t feel pressured, whether by your partner, society, or your own expectations, to be horny on demand. “It's humanly impossible to be fabulous, sexy, a new mom and do all the other things our lives call for,” said Beth. “Give you and your partner room to adjust to your new roles as parents. Slowly start to take time to rekindle what you had before baby.”
Beth also noted that after her marriage ended and she was back in the dating game, what wound up working in her favor is good old-fashioned confidence. “When I accepted that I had a ‘mom body,’ for lack of a better phrase, my confidence attracted plenty of men who could've cared less about the changes my body had taken on. The more comfortable I felt with myself, the better my sex became.”
Balancing time with your child and time with your partner (or partners) becomes extremely tricky. Meaghan O’Connell of The Cut hilariously dissects her overnight date with her husband at a pricey hotel, in which they were very conscious of spending money specifically in order to have sex. As she put it, “It’s a little absurd in concept: Did I just spent two years physically building a life with my own body, only to turn around and spend hundreds of dollars to escape it for less than 24 hours?” Mom of two Kristina Wright, who had her first child at 42, found what’s worked as a solution so parenthood didn’t completely take over her life—or her marriage. “I think I was very conscious of being focused on our relationship and making time for each other because we'd been together for 19 years; I didn't want this wonderful intimacy we'd always had to go away,” recalled Wright. “We had almost weekly date nights from the time our first was six months old, and that really helped us stay connected.”
Hillary Frank, host of parenting podcast The Longest Shortest Time, has some tips based on two episodes on the theme Parents’ Guide to Doing It (you can listen to those here and here). First, remember that you get to define what sex looks like for you—and it’s okay if it looks different than it did in your pre-mom days. “If full-on penetrative sex feels too scary or painful or involved, make it easy on yourself: don't do it. There are lots of other ways to be sexual with your partner that are just as intimate. Be creative,” suggested Frank.
She also endorses sex columnist Dan Savage’s suggestion from the podcast that new parents, whether or not they’ve given birth, should get a pass from having sex for a year. Even though those who’ve given birth might be given the medical all clear for nookie after six weeks, Frank admits, “Most women I've talked to don't feel anywhere ready by then.” So don’t feel like just because you can after six weeks (or any other time period), you should, if it’s not feeling right for you.
As it turns out, I’ve got good timing in thinking about how to keep things hot with my partner before I’m in the thick of parenting. According to Shar Rednour, co-author of The Sex & Pleasure Book, who adopted three kids with her partner, the time to start building up your sex life is before kids enter your life. “We had lots of sex while waiting to become parents because we knew we wouldn’t be able to have sex as often once we were parents,” Rednour explained. This isn’t just an issue of time management, but a way of reaffirming your passion for each other that you can draw inspiration from down the road.
After all the stress kids can bring, “it’s pretty easy to get snarky and resentful with partners and turn on each other,” said Rednour. “Why do you think there are so many divorces once people become parents? If you have some reserve intimacy ‘in the bank’ then it’s easier to believe your partner/spouse when they say ‘I want to fuck your brains out right now but I’m exhausted.’” In other words, they’ll remember how hot you were for them and be assured that you still want them, even if you’re too busy or tired in the early days of parenting to make good on that desire.
And new moms (who, in all likelihood, are probably too busy to do more than skim this column): Here’s some good news. Wright wants you to “remember that it's a stage. The baby won't always be a baby, and any lack of interest due to exhaustion and hormones will shift with time. You will feel like yourself again, probably sooner than you expect.”